Pondering Good Impressions

Visitors tend to avoid the Graham Ranch from the end of November through the end of May so we are delighted when family and friends come to see us during the milder months.

But I need to stop trying to impress them.

I was thrilled when I received a note from my cousin saying he and his wife would ride their motorcycle out West and stop by for a couple of days. Now I wonder if they will ever come back.

My husband, Steve, and I like to cook in Dutch ovens so it was pizza over charcoal for the first supper. Only the pizza turned to charcoal. Oops. Oh well, nobody starved.

The next morning, I proudly showed off all the wonders at the corral. Only a lamb had died for some unknown reason. Not what I want visitors to see, but sometimes ranch life is harsh. No problem; we could tour the ranch while we made a dead run. Only the wet spring left a new bog hole that sucked three of the four truck tires completely out of sight. Oh well, we needed a two-mile walk back to the house anyway.

Then antifreeze started to drip on Brian’s shoes as we made our way to a concession commitment in Choteau. No worries; we hooked up to another truck and went on. On the way back to the ranch, gears started slipping in the automatic transmission. I hoped my cousins would take no notice. Wrong. We made it home, though, only to find out that the dishwasher had completely quit working. Now we had a problem. Fortunately, my cousins are good sports and we managed to get the dishes done the old fashioned way.

The next morning, as my cousins pulled away on their brand-new, fully-functioning Harley, I assured them that things on the ranch don’t break down every day. I don’t think they believed me. I don’t think we impressed them with the beauty and romance of ranch life either.

Thinking that maybe we had worked our way through our share of calamities for a few days, Steve headed to the hay field while I worked on other ranch business. Steve has had his share of minor breakdowns in the field, but nothing out of the ordinary. He hasn’t had anyone to impress so he has fixed the problem and moved on.

Then we had more company.

My dad brought some construction material to the ranch, along with his brother who had never visited before. I really wanted to impress my uncle with the grandeur of the Graham Ranch because it is so different from where he lives and because we love this life so much. At the same time, Steve’s brother, Rodney, was visiting and he is always worth impressing.

But I had to get home first.

My four-year-old daughter, Abby, an orphan lamb that needed intensive care and I had been teaching range management at the Montana Natural Resources Youth Camp near Missoula for three days. We hoped to pull in the driveway about an hour after our family was scheduled to arrive.

We were making good time until I passed a semi-truck. Suddenly, gray smoke filled my rearview mirror and the temperature gauge pegged the top of the red.

I pulled over near a slough about half way up the west side of Roger’s Pass and checked my cell phone. No service. Of course.

I popped the hood. Antifreeze had sprayed the entire engine. The gray smoke had actually been steam. The engine cooled for a few minutes before I unscrewed the radiator cap: Empty.

I trekked down the steep incline, filled a jug with slough water, and poured it into the radiator. Three trips to the slough took care of the radiator, at least until I turned on the motor. That’s when I found the blown-out heater hose.

Backcountry packers often recommend carrying a pocket knife on your belt so it can quickly be reached to cut a cinch, rope or rein during an emergency. However, I carry only one implement and I prefer multi-use tools. My Leatherman is purple so I can find it in a snow bank, on the range or in the corral. As I climbed up on the bumper of the overheated pickup, I found it on my belt. The screwdriver loosened the hose clamps. The straight edge trimmed the hose. The screwdriver again tightened clamps and the three of us could ease on for another 120 miles.

When I got home, I commented that nobody had stopped to offer help during the entire 45 minutes that I was bent over the truck bumper with the hood up. Our ranch visitors reminded me that I am no longer 23-years-old so the view from the highway might not have been as impressive as it once was. But when Steve saw the back of the pickup, he knew the most likely answer: Nobody, but nobody he said, would be impressed by the Beverly Hillbillies look of a stock rack in the pickup bed, with a bale of hay, five plastic fencing panels and one hungry lamb.

So much for good impressions. Maybe I should quit trying so hard.

Lisa Schmidt and her husband, Steve Hutton, raise natural, grassfed beef and lamb at the Graham Ranch near Conrad.

Lisa Schmidt